May 11, 2009


Pakistan's Ethnic Fault Line (Selig S. Harrison, May 11, 2009, Washington Post)

While army leaders fear the long-term dangers of a Taliban link-up with Islamist forces in the heartland of Pakistan, they are more worried about what they see as the looming danger of Pashtun separatism.

Historically, the Pashtuns were politically unified before the British Raj. The Pashtun kings who founded Afghanistan ruled over 40,000 square miles of what is now Pakistan, an area containing more than half of the Pashtun population, until British forces defeated them in 1847, pushed up to the Khyber Pass and imposed a disputed boundary, the Durand Line, that Afghanistan has never accepted. Over Pashtun nationalist protests, the British gave these conquered areas to the new, Punjabi-dominated government of Pakistan created in the 1947 partition of India.

At various times since, Afghan governments have challenged Pakistan's right to rule over its Pashtun areas, alternatively pushing for an autonomous state to be created within Pakistan, an independent "Pashtunistan" or a "Greater Afghanistan" that would directly annex the lost territories.

Fears of Pashtunistan led Pakistan to support jihadist surrogates in the Afghan resistance during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and, later, to build up the Taliban. Ironically, during its rule in Kabul the Taliban refused to endorse the Durand Line despite pressure from Islamabad. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also resisted, calling it "a line of hatred that raised a wall between the two brothers."

The British got the most rebellious Pashtun tribes to acquiesce to their rule only by giving them formal autonomous status in their own "Federally Administered Tribal Areas" (FATA). This autonomy was respected by successive Pakistani governments until the Bush administration pressured former president Pervez Musharraf into sending his army into those areas in 2002, displacing 50,000 people. Since then, Predator strikes have killed more than 700 Pashtun civilians.

So how should the Obama administration proceed?

Recognize the independent state of Pashtunistan and offer them the opportunity to establish control and security within that state or we'll consider everyone within to be fair game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 11, 2009 7:18 AM
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